Category Archives: Reviews

Gear I Love: Vector Cup Holder

[I spent last week on vacation, so — like any respectable gear geek — I took the opportunity to try some new gear. I plan to write about a few of those items over the next few weeks.]

Anthro’s sturdy cup holder. Mine is black.

Anthro’s sturdy cup holder. Mine is black.

[You can buy the Vector Cup Holder on Amazon to support this site. Thanks!]

When I’m working (or playing) at my computer, some kind of beverage is always within reach. Unfortunately, electronics don’t like liquids — I’ve got the [water/juice/soda]-damaged gadgets to prove it. So for years I’ve had Anthro’s $30 c-clamp Cup Holder on each of my office’s two desks, to (a) keep my cups and mugs safely away from the gear on my work surfaces; and (b) reduce the chances that I’ll accidentally tip one of those containers over. The sturdy, metal accessories are heavy and bulky, but they don’t budge, and they accommodate even moderately wide coffee cups.

My years of satisfaction with these Anthro cup holders are why I was excited to discover, last year, a Kickstarter project for a portable cup holder designed to provide similar benefits. I immediately pledged $30 to get one of the first 200 units.

The design of the Cup Holder is simple but clever. Made of aluminum, it weighs only 3.3 ounces (96 grams); when collapsed for travel, it’s flat and less than half an inch thick. Pull the round cup ring away from the body of the Cup Holder and rotate it 90 degrees, and you have a holder that’s almost 3.5 inches deep and fits cups up to 3.4 inches in diameter. Squeeze the spring-loaded arm to open the clamp, and it fits tables up to 1.5 inches thick. The strong spring and rubber strips along the clamp arms give the Cup Holder a firm grip.

The Cup Holder, folded for travel

The Cup Holder, folded for travel

My Vector Cup Holders 1arrived earlier this year, and I’ve been using them around the house — on my office desks and on the communal desk in the family room — for several months; I’ve also used one on the occasional trip to the coffee shop. In those environments, the Cup Holders worked well. They gave me more room on whatever desk or table I happened to be using, they kept my drink safely away from my laptop or keyboard, and, as promised, they helped prevent me from accidentally knocking my drink over.

But last week, flying to and from Hawaii with the kids, was the first chance I had to try the Cup Holders in the environment for which I originally purchased them: in the economy section of a commercial airliner.

The Cup Holder in use on a flight

The Cup Holder in use on a flight

On the downside, I was disappointed to discover that on our two United Airlines flights, the space between adjacent tray tables wasn’t wide enough to accommodate a Cup Holder. This meant that if the person next to me was also using his/her tray table, I couldn’t place my drink to the side of the table; I had to attach the Cup Holder to the front edge. In a cramped coach seat, this wasn’t ideal, but it worked for me, a pretty skinny guy, and it wasn’t a problem at all for my young kids.

And that’s where the upside of the Cup Holders was obvious: While I appreciated a Cup Holder for my own drink, the Cup Holders were fantastic for traveling with kids. They fit airline drink cups perfectly, and cans of juice just fine — it was the first family trip we’ve taken where we (the parents) didn’t have to worry about the kids knocking over their drinks or ours. Even the flight attendants were impressed, as each and every one asked us where we got the Cup Holders.2

The rubber bumper that never wants to stick

The rubber bumper that never wants to stick

I do have a couple minor complaints about the Cup Holders themselves. For one, the edges are a bit sharper than I expected. You won’t cut yourself on them, but they’re not smooth, and they can scratch your other gear if you’re not careful. Another is that the rubber grip strip along the inside of the clamp has a tendency to partially come loose. When the Cup Holder is clamped onto a table, the strip is clamped in place, too, so it doesn’t affect the use of the Cup Holder, but it still takes away from the otherwise solid feel of the product.

At $50 each, the Cup Holder isn’t cheap, but after traveling with a couple, I’d buy one at full price, especially if I were flying more than a couple times each year — and especially if I were regularly flying with children. If you’ll end up using it at home, too, it’s even easier to justify.

(If you’ve found anything similar for less money, let me know on Twitter.)

  1. Yes, plural. For some reason, I received two Cup Holders. I contacted the company about returning the extra one, but I never received a reply. I’m assuming that arranging a return was more trouble than it was worth for VectorWerks.
  2. VectorWerks should provide little cards with the company’s information, like Bose has been doing for years with its noise-canceling headphones.

The iPhone 6 Plus “case” I’m currently using

(Or: A review of BodyGuardz’s UltraTough Clear Skins for iPhone 6 Plus.)

In the month since I got my iPhone 6 Plus, a good number of people have asked what case I’ve got on my phone. I was initially using the Griffin Technology Reveal—it was one of the first cases I received, and it’s pretty nice. It’s not too bulky; its rubbery frame offers some shock protection and extends far enough past the screen to protect it when you set the phone face-down; and it covers the back of the phone with clear, rigid plastic. As good-protection cases go, it doesn’t add much bulk, and while the phone is noticeably heavier with the Reveal on, it’s not excessively so.

However…I’d rather not use a case. After regularly having one on my iPhones over the years, I decided to go “naked” about halfway through my time with the iPhone 5s. I was never a huge fan of the harsh edges on the 5s, but I liked how much thinner and lighter the phone felt without a case.

This is even more true with the 6 Plus: Its thin profile and rounded edges almost beg you to use it bare. It’s the first iPhone since the original that I’ve felt guilty encasing.

But I still wanted something to keep the iPhone 6 Plus’s all-metal exterior from scratching, and if it added a bit of grip, even better—the 6 and 6 Plus are quite slippery.

BodyGuardz UltraTough Clear Skins for iPhone 6

I’ve had great experiences with BodyGuardz’s protective skins, using them on various laptops, iPads, and iPods. So I ordered the “back-only” version of the company’s UltraTough Clear Skins for the iPhone 6. 1 I’ve been using it for a week, and I’m really liking it.

Like other BodyGuardz skins, this one is made of “the same material used to shield the front of vehicles from rock chips,” says the company. It protects against scratches—though, obviously, not shock and dents—and gives the surface of the phone a bit of tackiness, while adding minimal bulk. It’s also relatively inexpensive, at just $17.

This is a wet-apply skin, which means that instead of using traditional adhesive, like a big sticker, you wet your fingers and the skin with the included solution, and then position the skin on your phone. The downside to wet-apply skins is that the solution can be a bit messy; sometimes you need to hold edges or corners in place for a few minutes while the skin sets; and it takes about a day for the skin to dry completely. The upside is that wet-apply skins are easier to move during the application process: You just pull the skin up, rewet it if necessary, and reposition it. You then squeeze out any large bubbles; tiny bubbles generally go away after a few days.

I applied the skin at around 8pm one evening, and by the next morning, it was essentially dry, or at least dry enough to use normally. Besides scratch protection, the BodyGuardz skin adds a nice bit of grip to the phone—it’s already saved me from a couple accidental drops.

Corner of the UltraTough Clear Skins for iPhone 6

The corner coverage of the UltraTough Clear Skins for iPhone 6

The skin has two drawbacks. The first, which is admittedly minor, is that it changes the phone’s surface appearance from matte to glossy, and the glossy surface shows fingerprints. The second—which is true of all products like this—is that the rounded edges of the iPhone 6 models make it difficult for skins to completely cover either device’s corners. The BodyGuardz skin wraps up the edges of the phone, and then thin tabs wrap around the corners. Provided you hold these little tabs down long enough during application for them to set, they seem to stay in place well during everyday use—mine haven’t come loose yet—but they leave thin sections of each corner unprotected against scratches, and I wonder how well these thin tabs will hold up over time. (If they ever do come loose, at least BodyGuardz offers inexpensive replacement skins—$4.95 for the iPhone 6 Plus version.)

In other words, the BodyGuardz skin is a compromise: You protect most of the phone’s metal surfaces from scratches, and get a better grip, while adding virtually no bulk. But you give up complete surface protection, as well as any impact protection. That may not be the right compromise for you, but it was for me—I’m happy overall.

(If I have any longer-term issues with the BodyGuardz skin, I’ll update this article.)

  1. Why did I get the back-only version, instead of the full-coverage one, which also includes a screen protector? I’ve tried dozens of screen protectors over the years, and while some are pretty good, I’ve yet to find a single one that offers a combination of clear view, touchscreen responsiveness, and oleophobic finish comparable to the iPhone’s own screen. Worse, few protectors are as hard as that screen, so you end up with distracting scratches in the protector, most of which wouldn’t have been scratches on the phone’s glass. In other words, the experience is worse enough that I’ve resigned myself to risking screen blemishes.

My review of OS X 10.10 Yosemite

Speaking of Yosemite, I reviewed Apple’s new OS for LaptopMag. The conclusion:

Each year, Apple announces a new version of OS X, usually proclaiming the release to be the largest update yet. But OS X 10.10 Yosemite really does feel, and look, like it’s worthy of the hype, especially if you own multiple Apple devices. It’s the first version of OS X that truly embraces Apple’s ever-widening ecosystem by letting you use your Macs, iPhones and iPads as part of a coherent computing system, rather than as disparate devices fighting for your attention. And for iOS users who are new to the Mac, Yosemite makes the transition from mobile to desktop (and back again) as seamless as I’ve seen to date.

I’d still like to see the Finder, and OS X’s file-management features as a whole, get the overhaul they deserve, so that both basic and power users can work more efficiently. (Open and save dialogs, for example, haven’t changed much in years.) It’s also a shame, if technologically understandable, that so many of the best features of Yosemite require newer hardware, on both the Mac and iOS side. And like any new OS, Yosemite’s initial release has a few glitches. But Yosemite will likely change—for the better—how many users work every day.